BLIND LEMON PLEDGE: BACKWOODS GLANCE
Listen to the Big Blend Radio interview with James Byfield, aka Blind Lemon Pledge, about his music career and new album ‘Backwoods Glance’.
Even a guy with the stage name Blind Lemon Pledge can’t sing the blues all the time! After a nearly decade long discography exploring a multitude of blues-related styles, Blind Lemon Pledge (aka James Byfield) is taking a ‘Backwoods Glance’ with a new album that explores the Americana, Folk, and Country influences that are also an important part of his musical heritage.
Critically praised on his previous albums for his deft handling of diverse and eclectic musical styles, Pledge does not disappoint with this new collection. With styles ranging from line dance swing to Appalachian folk to Cajun stomp, with detours to romantic waltz, jug band hoot and Southern Country Gospel along the way, Blind Lemon Pledge proves once again that his skills as a songwriter, musician and producer know no bounds.
Says Pledge “I had a batch of songs I wanted to record, but which I knew would never fit on a straight blues album. And having had good success in the Blues arena, I thought I would try my luck in the Americana market. I gathered some older material and wrote a few more songs specifically for the project. Although you can still hear my blues influence on a few of the tunes, my overall concept was to create a Folk and Americana feel to the album.”
Another major impetus for ‘Backwoods Glance’ was to capture the flavor of the several Bay Area Americana style round-robin jam sessions in which Pledge participates. At those freewheeling events, he has made music with a variety of outstanding musicians, including many who are not from his regular Blues Music circle. “I love great players and I wanted to make a record that reproduced the beautiful groove of those jams,” he says.
Although multi-instrumentalist Pledge has often self-created most or all of the backing tracks on his previous recordings, for this recording he handpicked a group of musicians from the jam sessions and from his blues band to round out the sound. In addition to Pledge on vocals, guitars and harmonica, the musicians include Tom Cline (dobro), Jimi Edwards (keyboards, percussion), Pledge’s regular bassist Peter Grenell, world class violinist/fiddler and band member Cal Keaoola, singer Marisa Malvino (harmonies and lead vocal) and John Pearson on cajon and percussion. Says Pledge, “It was great fun to record with musicians I love and respect.”
The album kicks off with the lively “Polly Come Out” which quickly establishes the new directions Pledge is exploring on this album. Although the first two verses suggest a classic 12 bar blues pattern, the addition of dobro and fiddle, the loping country cadence of the melody and the addition of a chorus all establish the Americana feel that will carry throughout ‘Backwoods Glance’. The haunting “Hills of West Virginia” is a somber folk tune about the Appalachian miners and the problems they face. The Dylanesque “Fayetteville,” exemplifies Pledge’s superb storytelling ability with a song about homelessness sketched out in a few poignant lines.
Also included are: “Sisters of the Coal Dust”, written and sung from a woman’s perspective; “Moon Over Memphis” a heartbreaking waltz about lost love; “Lynchburg Town” another Dylanesque tune about unemployment; and the uplifting folk-rock anthem “Silver Wings”, about searching for dreams in Hollywood. “Sweet Celine” is all fun with a jug band feel and harmonica and slide guitar solos; “Carolina Kiss” is a keyboard driven, emotional love ballad about memory and loss; “My Belle Cherie” is a sudden detour into Cajun country with a humorous tune about young love and lust. The album finishes its musical journey with “Give My Poor Heart Ease” with echoes of old Southern Baptist hymns and a story of finding hope amidst despair, a theme that runs throughout the album and is concluded in this song.
One critic has described Blind Lemon Pledge as a “national treasure.” His previous albums, ‘Evangeline’ (2014) and ‘Pledge Drive’ (2016) have been hailed as ‘masterpieces” and received international critical praise and airplay with nominations for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Best Blues Tune and Best Blues Performance. ‘Backwoods Glance’ continues the musical journey of Blind Lemon Pledge in new directions. See www.BlindLemon-Pledge.com.